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The Nature of Engagement and Motivation: 3 Rules and Myths that Inform Your Reality

Paul Falcone, VP, Human Resources, MPTF

Paul Falcone, VP, Human Resources, MPTF

Engagement is vital to any organization. Inspired employees produce better results, find new ways of adding value, and sense a greater loyalty if not to their company — then at least to their immediate boss. The end result will be increased retention, a hallmark of leading companies with strong employee-oriented focuses. Fixing the engagement issue that’s plaguing the U.S. workforce is no simple task, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as people make it. Top managers consistently engage individuals and their teams by creating a culture of open communication and trust. They acknowledge and recognize good work, and they recognize that every role performed at excellence deserves respect and retains its own inherent nobility. These aren’t just words or platitudes. They’re foundational beliefs and sponsoring thoughts to help leaders thrive and excel in challenging and turbulent times.

Myths and Blind Alleys

First, the myths about motivation and engagement that we tell ourselves include:

Myth 1: Until we pay our workers “at market,” we’ll never have truly engaged and highly productive workers or a stable workforce.

Myth 2: With merit budgets so low and bonuses not being paid out at 100%, you can’t blame employees for being disengaged and disenchanted.

Myth 3: Until the company invests in more headcount and systems upgrades and slows down this frantic pace and this “evolutionary change at revolutionary speed” pattern, we won’t reach optimal performance.

"Would you want to work for you? If your answer is yes, then congratulations — you’re off to an excellent start"

While it’s true that these and other challenges may make it difficult to catch your breath at work, merit and bonus restrictions or headcount reductions are part of the new reality for all organizations globally, so to simply use this as an excuse for employee disengagement and dissatisfaction is a copout that permits leaders to deny reality or otherwise vent frustration. But it does little to help define and develop anyone’s leadership brand.

What really de-motivates others? Suspicion, lack of trust, an unwillingness to share information, micro-management, and the imposition of rules that suffocate creativity and free spirit. After all, creating a culture of compliance will only get you so far: if people operate out of fear or focus only on avoiding mistakes, it stands to reason that individual contributions and team output will stall. In comparison, treating others with dignity and respect, fostering a greater sense of inclusion, demonstrating recognition and appreciation, and infusing your team with a spirit of career development and self-education all breed loyalty. In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, what’s good for your employees tends to be good for your customers, suppliers, and the community. The quicker you can get to this reality of enlightened leadership, the more you’ll reap the benefits of managing a motivated and engaged team.

Rules for Being Someone’s Favorite Boss — The Truest Motivational Driver

To reach success in this arena, however, you’ll need to understand that motivation isn’t solely about money.  It isn’t even necessarily about promotional opportunities and vertical career trajectories. It’s about being someone’s “favorite boss.” Here’s how most of us describe the best boss we’ve ever had:

• She always had my back and always made me feel like my opinion mattered.
• She challenged me to do things I didn’t even realize I was capable of, and she seemed to have more faith in me than I had in myself at times.
• She made work fun, she was always positive, and she helped us all understand the broader picture.

To achieve success in leadership and become someone’s favorite boss, simply focus on the following three rules, which garner positive results by their simplicity and selflessness alone:

Rule 1: What you want for yourself, give to another
Rule 2: Beingness trumps doingness
Rule 3: Giving the gift of your time to those who work for you and report to you is the ultimate in recognition and appreciation

To the first point, use yourself as a guide: What would you like to see ideally in your relationship with your boss and your company? How can you find a way to create that very same experience with those who report to you? The metaphor of work being a Darwinian jungle where only the fittest survive may be real, but it’s only one aspect of our careers and is certainly not what we choose to experience. The greatest gift that the workplace offers, in comparison, lies in growing and developing those who are following in your footsteps and helping them excel and grow in their careers.

The idea of “beingness” trumping “doingness” is a critical concept that states that who we are — not what we do — is the most important aspect of motivation and employee engagement. Too many people find themselves doing things and running themselves ragged in the process, while trying to motivate and pump up their teams. In reality, true inspiration comes from who we are as individuals, what values we espouse, and the level of character and integrity we demonstrate. As such, being someone’s favorite boss is rarely a function of what we do – the “favorite boss” descriptions above all emanate from who we are as individuals. That’s where your motivational focus should always be.

And if you think you don’t have enough time to get to know your team members personally or dedicate a portion of your day or week to their professional development, think again. While it’s true that many workers — yourself included — may feel overwhelmed by the harrowing pace of change in the workplace these days, remember always to focus on high payoff activities (i.e., activities that provide the greatest return on investment for your time). The highest activity that any leader could engage in is getting to know their team members more closely, helping them in setting and achieving their professional and career goals, and otherwise removing roadblocks and supporting them in obtaining their own career ambitions while making your company a better place.

These rules on motivation are important guidelines and parameters that will help you develop your own reputation as a successful and selfless leader. It’s actually easier than you think if you simply filter your own activities through your subordinates’ lenses. Would you want to work for you? If your answer is yes, then congratulations — you’re off to an excellent start. If your answer is maybe or sometimes, then remember the gifts that your favorite boss gave you and look for ways to pay it forward and become that type of leader for others. This is all within your reach, but only if you believe it’s a priority and you are willing to reinvent yourself in this critical aspect of your own career development.